TALLAHASSEE, FL -- Operators of dozens of Internet gambling cafés in Florida were arrested on Wednesday following a three-year investigation into Allied Veterans of the World, a Jacksonville-based charity group accused of collecting millions of dollars for itself and awarding little money to veterans. Crackdowns on similar sweepstakes operations could be in the works.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Reveal the Deal by law enforcement, led to the arrest of 55 individuals in Florida and five other states, and prompted the resignation Florida's lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is said to have consulted for Allied Veterans of the World in 2009 and 2010, when she was a state representative and ran a public relations company.
The probe and crackdown were aimed at owners and operators of 49 gambling centers connected with Allied Veterans of the World, a registered charity that reportedly gave only 2% of its profits to charitable causes over a three-year period.
The commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Gerald Bailey, said charges would be handed out next week. They will likely include illegal gambling money laundering and racketeering. Bailey indicated that additional probes into other Internet cafés not affiliated with Allied Veterans are forthcoming.
The targeted Internet games in Florida operate by giving customers prepaid cards to play "sweepstakes" on computers that offer games with the look and feel of slot machines. Players go to a cashier to cash out their winnings. Bailey said Allied Veterans' principals funneled most of the profits back to themselves. The operation allegedly brought in about $300 million, with four main co-conspirators taking in more than $90 million.
The investigations were launched by Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, who said other gaming centers are considered to be contrary to the law. Reports are saying police have delayed rounding up other operations so as not to jeopardize the Allied Veterans probe. A second phase of the investigation will reportedly look at the money spent on lobbying and donations to political campaigns.
State Sens. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and Garrett Richter (R-Naples) are expected to introduce legislation next week that would ban Internet sweepstakes cafés in Florida. Last year, the state Senate, concerned about the impact on jobs, did not support a House bill that sought to ban electronic sweepstakes games.
Sources last year estimated that there were 1,000 Internet cafés with sweepstakes games, employing as many as 10,000 people, in Florida.
Allied Veterans shut down; FOP president arrested | News 4 Jax
Internet cafe probe snags dozens, could doom industry in Florida | The Miami Herald
Florida Official Resigns in Wake of Gambling Probe | The WSJ